Talk with Gary Patterson — Member, SMART Recovery (Part 1)

Image: Gary Patterson

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You have an association with SMART Recovery. What is SMART Recovery? What is your relation with it as an entity?

Gary Patterson: I’ve been involved with SMART Recovery for almost two years now, since I last came out of detox. In my decades of drinking I would from time to time go into detox just, in my mind, as a matter of some warped sense of periodic self-care, but there had never been anything solid to hang on to in order to maintain any kind of prolonged sobriety afterwards so I always ended up drinking again days after, or more often than not the very same day I got out. I had tried the 12-step approach numerous times but could never resonate with their ideals and principles of the program and so carried on with a sense that nothing was ever going to work for me. While in detox this last time I saw a little 4"X 6" card pinned to the corkboard with some information about SMART Recovery. Seeing it was something I had never heard of before I decided to check it out and began attending meetings. By chance there was a meeting scheduled for the evening of the day I got out and in retrospect that was what kept me from the liquor store that day. The first thing that hit me was how much practical sense this approach made to me. I consider myself a thinking man so a program that deals with thoughts, emotions, and behavior, a psychologically oriented approach peaked my interest and I found myself thinking…”what if?” I had been very much isolated for the five years leading up to this last detox, basically staying in my room drinking until I was almost out of booze, then sleeping pills to end the day by passing out only to wake the next day to start all over again. I have to give myself that after I got my license back this time I made a personal comittment never to drive after two beers and stuck to it, which led to my leaving the house only once per day to get my booze and maybe stop at the grocery store if it was one of those seldom times when I thought maybe I should eat something. That was my life for five years. These SMART meetings were so much different than anything I had ever experienced in an attempt at recovery, people actually calmly discussing issues among peers delving into the principles, practices and methods of SMART Recovery evoking real-time ideas, and SMART tools to try. The synergy in a room of like minded people working together to help one another and ourselves solve our personal problems in our quest for sobriety gave me a warm, safe, connected feeling I still have today.

Jacobsen: Why is the organization important?

Patterson: To my mind, if you consider the destruction, chaos, and dehumanization that are daily occurrences in our society, caused by the misuse of drugs, alcohol, and many other types of maladaptive behaviours and habits which inevitably cause us heartache, pain, suffering, and too often these days death, involving millions of people worldwide, it’s not rocket science to see the need for something out there more effective than what has been historically available. SMART Recovery is that ‘something’. A program with actual viable, practical, science-based, proven substance, to guide people to a place where learned self-management skills not only provide the tools to actively maintain sobriety, but creates a new perspective that enhances many other aspects of our daily lives. SMART Recovery is so much more, to me, than just an ‘addiction recovery’ program. It has led me to a place where I’m restructuring my entire life to be a more healthy, fulfilling and enjoyable existence…. and it works. I don’t have words to express adequate accolades for this organization. “ Discover the Power of Choice” resonates big time!

Jacobsen: What are some notable and touching experiences in working with them?

Patterson: You ask about notable experiences working with SMART Recovery. For me, as a Facilitator, it’s the level of support I get from the people in Mentor Ohio. Taking the training, preparing for, publicizing and starting a new meeting, as well as issues that come up in a meeting I may not feel qualified to adequately address myself, personal issues with my own journey while facilitating meetings, all covered with a profound sense that we are a team working together for a common purpose to help people end their suffering. These people have our backs every step of the way.

When there is an active, involved discussion in a meeting and someone says something like “wow, I never thought about it that way before!” and you can see it in their eyes, feel it in their body language, those ‘aha’ moments in the room give me goose bumps to this day. When someone keeps coming to meetings and you start to notice the growth and the confidence that’s building in that this can be done and in fact is happening, simultaneously deepens my resolve to continue with this endeavour.